My name is Mike and I have a grade III oligodendroglioma astrocytoma. For 14 long years, I have courageously fought Brain Cancer. Hearing this, you may think I am lucky and I feel that I have been. But my long battle also comes with a huge price tag.
While most 21 year olds are carefree, living by the seat of their pants, there are others that were chosen for far more difficult journeys. I was diagnosed with grade III Brain Cancer 8 days after my 21st birthday. At the time of my first battle with cancer, I was an NJCAA All-American starting offensive center football player at Harper Community College and participating in any college activity I could fit into my busy life. I was finishing my Associates Degree and in the process of being recruited to play football by two universities.
In one night my whole life would change. It all started when I was awoken by my roommate after a seizure that was so strong it threw me from my bed and dislocated my shoulder. Not aware of what had happened, I was rushed to the hospital and learned I had a Grand Mal seizure caused by a tumor in my brain.
My dreams of playing football were over; I would no longer be able to sustain any sort of impact to my head. In May 2003, I underwent surgery to remove the tumor and was diagnosed with grade III malignant oligodendroglioma astrocytoma tumor in the left frontal lobe of my brain. Immediately following the surgery I started chemo and radiation treatments.
In November of 2003, I had to undergo another surgery due to an edema around the resection area, and had follow-up treatments in a Hyperbaric Oxygen tank for 3 months because my body was sensitive to radiation.
Thinking my battle was won, I continued on with life as any other 22 year old would. I applied to Northern Illinois University and graduated with honors with a Bachelor degree in Political Science and a minor in History. I was not going to let anything get in my way again!
After six years of remission I learned my cancer was back. In 2009 my fiancé and I were planning the rest of our lives together. It was as if someone was playing a cruel, heart wrenching joke on us. Yet again, I went in for surgery and was diagnosed with a recurring grade III oligodendroglioma astrocytoma. It was devastating news.
With unexpected seizures, treatments, and chronic surgeries, it was incredibly difficult for me to start my career. What little money we had saved went to paying hospital bills and general living expenses. The debt continued to increase with each treatment. Being the humble person I am, I still did not ask for help. I decided to cash in my 401K, withdraw every penny I had in my bank account and we lived off of credit cards. For two more years, I continued chemo and survived again.
After battling cancer for almost 12 years, my family and I thought we had seen the worst of it, but my battle was not over. I had a seizure and was not able to drive for six months. The end of April 2014, I went in for my sixth surgery.
Every time we went in for follow-ups with my doctors, we held our breath. In March 2015 my MRI scan showed the tumor had once again returned and this time my doctors were not confident the area was operable. I had elected to undergo 7 weeks of daily proton radiation. After continued scans to monitor the treated area, last week we learned the tumor is back. Currently we are looking into new treatment possibilities with immuno-therapy clinical trials.
14 years of chemo and radiation, countless MRIs and doctor visits and six surgeries. My worst fear in my battle with cancer is leaving my wife and family with debt over $480,000. I know my life is more valuable than what I owe and I am ready to continue my fight for myself and those who lost their battles too soon. I am forever grateful to those who have helped me get this far in my life. No amount of thanks can ever repay the generosity to those who will help me continue my fight.
I humbly say Thank you.
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